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Coffee Flavors by Region

Optimal Conditions

Great coffee starts with optimal growing conditions like rich soil, mild temperatures, frequent rain and shaded sun. While these requirements limit the regions that could possibly grow coffee, there is still a great variety of countries that do so. Some of the coffee growing regions are Brazil, Columbia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Guatemala, Hawaii, Indonesia, New Guinea, Jamaica and Yemen.

According to the Coffee Research Organization, about 80% of the coffee produced is Arabica and about 20% is Robusta. Robusta coffee beans are more robust than the Arabica plants, but produce an inferior tasting beverage with a higher caffeine content. Arabica beans need rainy and dry seasons that are well defined, and altitude must be between 1800-3600 feet. Robusta beans are much more tolerant to warm conditions than Arabica coffee.

The Experts

Does each country's coffee have distinctly identifiable characteristics? Let’s see how the experts weigh in here.

In the book, “Coffee: The Essential Guide for the Essential Bean,” Catherine Calvert says, “Though coffees from the same geographical area might share certain characteristics, each country, and each region within the country, tends to product its own distinctive bean.” ( Coffee--The Essential Guide to the Essential Bean by Catherine Calvert )

In “The Colors of Dessert,” Scott McMartin, Starbucks’ Director of Coffee and Tea Education, speaks about the differences in regions as follows:

“Latin America-calls these coffees incredibly versatile--“from the sturdy elegance and pronounced acidity of Central American Coffees, to the well-balanced coffee flavors of South America. Coffees from the Asia Pacific region vary widely and can be full-bodied, exotic and aromas and depth found in Papua New Guinea coffees. By contrast, coffees from the Africa/Arabia region are surprising and unique because of their non-coffee characteristics and wine-like qualities—including citrus fruits, berries and lavender.”

Texas Coffee Traders says, “Ethiopian Coffees have a rich, wild, winey character. Moka is actually a port in Yemen. Moka Harrar is the real mocha flavor which is now confused with chocolate. Indonesian coffees have a full-bodied, heavier earthiness best represented by the Sumatran coffees--Real gutsy and smooth in the darker roasts. Central and South American coffees are light and mild in character, having a pleasant flavor and aroma recognized by most people. African coffees tend to have a sharp, winey character similar to Ethiopians. Kenya best represents the true African coffee taste.”

Coffee is a very complex beverage with so many factors weighing in on each coffee's flavor profile. While every expert has their own opinion about the many characteristics of coffee, Marcela Zuchovic from Jalima Coffee says it all. While guiding and teaching us what the professionals are looking for when cupping, she made it clear that everyone’s experience with a coffee is personal and in the end, it is all about what you love. I agree.

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